Sunday, November 2, 2008

Jimmy Stewart vs. the Nazis

Today's TCM recommendation is The Mortal Storm, airing at 4:15 PM ET.

Released in 1940, The Mortal Storm tells the story of the rise of the Nazis, and how it affects not only the Jews of Germany, but people who don't particularly care for the Nazis and would otherwise just lead a quiet life. Frank Morgan plays Professor Viktor Roth, a man who doesn't care for the Nazis, and is fairly open about it. This opposition lands him in prison, of course, making life difficult for his family. His daughter Freya (played by Margaret Sullavan), is engaged to a Nazi officer, and when her father is imprisoned, it strains the relationship. Meanwhile, family friends of the Roths, the Breiters (son Martin is played by James Stewart), support the Roths even though it might make life difficult for them....

Although The Mortal Storm is fairly clear in its anti-Nazi beliefs, it is at the same time not much more than a standard romance/crime story set against that Nazi backdrop. It's fairly obvious that Martin is going to fall in love with Freya, and help her escape when the time comes; the escape is also standard-issue stuff. However, Stewart, Sullavan, and the rest of the cast all do more than capable jobs. And this having been released by MGM, the rest of the cast is filled with well-known names: a young Robert Stack, a young Robert Young, Bonita Granville as a girl living with the Breitners; Maria Ouspenskaya as Stewart's mother, and so on.

The thing about The Mortal Storm that's probably most interesting is the fact that it was released a full 18 months before the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, pushing the US into World War II. That, and the fact the movie was made at MGM. It was Warner Brothers that had spent the 1930s making socially conscious movies, while MGM made mostly glitzy stuff. Also, there was a strong isolationist sentiment in the United States in the years leading up to December 1941, and there were more than a few people who didn't like it when entertainment was used to try to make messages they feared would get the US involved in another European war. Indeed, The Mortal Storm is one of the movies that led to a Congressional investigation of the movie industry.

Sadly, The Mortal Storm is not available on DVD.

1 comment:

Tom said...

This is one of my favorite films; it portrays how families and friends were divided, so in addition to the romantic elements there is a great deal of suspense. The Frank Morgan character is unforgettable. The subject matter is fascinating.